connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
…In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
T S Eliot, “East Coker”, The Four Quartets
Therapy: a “Special Way”
Identity and Activity
Personality and Resistance
Separation and the Story
Known and Unknown
Objects for Fears
Therapy and Meditation
Awareness – Acceptance – Letting Go
Foreword to Video
Theresa and David
In spite of everything that we can learn in training to practice psychotherapy, we remain largely ignorant. Faced with another being”—whether we call him “client” or “therapist”—we are confronted with this choice: will we follow the well-trodden path of dead ritual, of conformity to the known, or will we accept the challenge to “be” together in the moment, with “what is”, to step into the unknown. This demands great courage. Very often what we “know” is a hindrance.
What I love about my work most is that it presents me with so many opportunities to grow. It is the most fulfilling work I can imagine. I remember, shortly after I started to make my living from practicing therapy, seeing an article in a tabloid newspaper that asked the question “Who would you most like to be?” I realised that I really most wanted to be me! And it was a wonderful feeling and a privileged feeling to realise that I was who I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do.
Further down the road in my life as a therapist, I often feel that it wouldn’t really matter what I did as a job anymore. Somehow everything seems potentially growthful. When I earned my living doing jobs I resented, becoming a therapist seemed like the only way. Now I practice therapy for a living all activities seem like the way.
In this deep meeting between who I am and what I do there is healing. For many years of my life I felt despairing, disconnected, inauthentic—a deep sense of something lacking—which gave rise to all kinds of problems. The problems sometimes were dazzling. They were fascinating. So intriguing I never got through them deeply enough to identify and understand where they came from.
I now know that at their source was a deep experience of separation. My activity was separate from my identity, I didn’t feel my feelings, I didn’t know that I had a body, I experienced intense periods of “divine longing”, projected outwards and reflected back to me in all sorts of frustration and unfulfillment.
My experience is not, however, that all these limitations are behind me. The truth is hard to write about. In so many ways I am still the same as I ever was. I might say, as Ram Dass has said:
In all my years (of self-exploration)…I don’t think I have got rid of one of my neuroses. But what has changed is, instead of getting so caught in them and taking my personality so seriously, I invite them in for tea!
It is a matter of simultaneity. It is a matter of levels”—of not getting stuck.
The difference between the “me” of today and the “me” of a few years ago or so is that, whereas I used to live out a narrow segment of the spectrum of my life’s possibilities, I now try to be open to the mandala of my life – a whole 360 degrees of potential and experience.
In this all things become opportunities for growth. I can learn from all my life situations. Not that I ever did otherwise. But what took most of my effort was getting through my resistance. And my resistance came out of the separation between who I (thought I) was and what was happening to me. From my wanting things to be a certain way and not wanting them to be another way.
When a person comes to work with me usually some form of this separation is evident. So, too, is his resistance. I wonder what is preventing him from experiencing his life. Because what holds our beings away from life is something that therapy addresses very well.
Each person carries with them a story. The story is one of adventure and danger, of threat and survival, of gifts and loss. There are good characters and bad characters, all sorts of interactions and private moments, promises, disappointments, agonies and ecstasies. This is the drama of all good stories. We are each of us attached to our story. It is, in a sense, who we are. At least we think it is.
In fact, it is who we were. And somehow our attachment to our story, our possessiveness of it as we clutch hold of its constantly unfolding drama, results in it being who we become, who we will be. For the future is only as real as the past, when all things are known. And we know our past. And so we know our future, when we are attached to our story.
What I have to offer is a space for the person to tell their story in, to be their story, to bring it slap-bang, manifested into form, into the room. So that we can look at it and say “Is that who you are?”
The new story that unfolds in the space is the story of who we are. As I meet this person in my awareness, as both our attentions are trained on the process, on the present, on what is happening, something new must take place. It must take place because we are letting go of the past by bringing the past into form, by telling the story, by listening to the story.
As Lao Tzu puts it:
What is in the end to be shrunken, Begins by being first stretched out. What is in the end to be weakened, Begins by being first made strong.
A modern Jungian, commenting on the myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal, speaks of the mourners as models for psychotherapists. Their…
…echoing makes a litany, transforms the pain…It makes out of life’s dark misery a song of the goddess. It establishes art as a reverent and creative and sympathetic response to the passions and pains of life. And it shows the potency of such a litany. For with their mirroring song they ransom a goddess of life.
As the past, the known, is acknowledged we are opening a path to a future that is unknown. We are making it possible to be, to be in the present moment. And all life, all existence takes place in the present moment.
This is where transformation takes place. This is the condition for true experience. This is where you find your real self, your authenticity. This is where identity and experience may become one.
And yet the present moment is overwhelmingly threatening. It relives memories of life-threatening situations. Before our stories were ever written inside us. Before we had answers and defences, before we found a way out of an intolerable present.
I have learnt to be more comfortable with fear, to work with it as a friend. It is interesting how the more I befriend fear the more hidden fears become. Not only am I now less afraid, but also my fears have become subtler, deeper and less specific. Fear is just fear!
When I realise that, it is very useful. I have to be afraid of something is how I think. I am afraid is how I feel. So fear latches onto the present moment, the vast unknown in which anything can happen.
Objects for fears are like subjects for anger, objects for needs and so on. The object is a projection of our separation. Object is a word and words create our confusion.
The “I” wants to dominate, exclude, make boundaries and divide the self in which we are all one.
The outer world of objects confirms the inner world of experience. How is it possible to relate to pure experience, to experience un-objectified and un-projected?
Meditation techniques surely provide a way and therapy complements meditation. In meditation the journey is inside-to-outside. In therapy the journey is outside-to-inside. I had always empathised with eastern spiritual thought: philosophy and practice. In western psychotherapy I discovered a counterpart. Put the two together and it’s like digging a tunnel from both ends!
As we wind our projections back in, a great responsibility falls on us. No longer will we be able to hide behind our range of excuses. No longer can we blame the other. We are responsible for our successes and failures – responsible even for defining what these terms mean.
When we are fully identified with our experiences then we are ourselves. When I am my experience and my experience is no longer objectified, I am no longer separate and it seems to me that inherent human qualities of true relationship may now manifest.
We talk so often of kindness, of caring, of compassion and love. The words are commonplace. I find the actuality of these qualities is more common than we acknowledge. If I use my awareness, am in the present moment, not separate from my real experience then everything can appear to me as love and compassion.
Am I projecting a new level of reality? Maybe, but the desire for enlightenment is a singular desire:
The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.
And when I do not feel separate then I open the way to great joy and ecstasy in my life.
Which brings me back to “tolerating” experience. Most of the people who come to work with me (like me once upon a time!) want to be “happy”. How can I tell them that deep is deep, that experience is experience, that being just “is”. I find that to tolerate pain brings with it the ability to experience joy and vice versa. I find that there is actually no separation between the two. They are one figure, one experience. When I am with them, without resistance, I am alive, I experience life.
I would like to discuss what I sometimes consider my philosophy: Awareness – Acceptance – Letting Go. In a way awareness is all. Acceptance flows from it. Letting go is the experience of choice, the experience of change.
Awareness is our natural state, our birthright. I can still remember when I was about thirteen year old starting into a new day with the vivid consciousness that the world had somehow become more dull. I remember saying to myself, “Surely I used to feel more alive once”. I had distant memories of experience being more vibrant. Something had been lost.
I had a similar experience when I was seven. Then I had fallen into a deep reverie on death itself. Isolated in my absorption I could only explain to the adults around me that I had a stomach-ache. They felt younger than me. I thought they would be scared of what I was experiencing. I wanted to protect them and I wanted to be protected. Consciously I was afraid of death, unconsciously I was afraid of life, and both were the unknown to me.
My life is the answer to the question of death. I sought the undying, the eternal in many shapes and forms. My emphasis was on the seeker and the search. My life used to take me further away from the deathless.
The very bottom is a place from where you can only rise. It is like the man running from his own shadow who
…did not understand that if he had stayed in the shade he would have lost his shadow, and by standing still he would have ceased making footprints.
Out of stillness awareness will arise and acceptance will grow. Practicing awareness, seeing “what is” is the powerful halting experience when we are out on a search. We listen to the silence between the words; we see the process around the content. We become a witness to our participation in experience and in this we can truly learn.
The power of my rational mind still dazzles me. As I go on in my bewitching acts of creation what I know is complemented by what I don’t know, what I can speak about is partner to the unspeakable. The practice of awareness connects all of this in the relationship between the human and the divine.
So out of my ego creations, my personal dramas, awareness leads me to my heart. This is the experience of coming home. This is where the authentic self lives. This is where I find myself and where the mystical journey, the transpersonal journey, into my Higher Self can begin.
I see the point of choice, of letting go, transformation and change as taking double effort in a way. There is a deep connection between the Higher Self and the human. The human side must often surrender and in a meeting with divine space”—transformation.
This is the closest I can get to an explanation. Why else are we sometimes left waiting so long? This is an attempt to understand, to speak of the unspeakable.
Resistance to surrender is painful. The model of identity is strong. It feels life-threatening to let go. I am (usually unconsciously) attached to my drama, embarrassed and ashamed about owning that and fearful of forsaking it. Yet I know that freedom lies beyond it. In the moments that I transcend it, form meets with the formless. I experience my wholeness and may glimpse the all-embracing interconnectedness of all things
The video has been compiled from seven hours of tape taken from two experiential training groups. One session took place in February 1990, the other in February 1991. The video represents individual and dyad work within the group as well as group sessions.
I feel that it is almost impossible to touch on the experience of psychotherapy in words and writing. In presenting this video I have tied to come closer to what it feels like to practice it, both as therapist and client. However, in watching the film, I am struck by how difficult it is to even convey the experience through this medium also. So much of the energy, the emotion, the real experience is still missing.
In these notes the titles of the various sequences of film are followed by three sets of numbers. The first relates to the video counter. The second is the time and the third set is the date of the workshop. The tape lasts about two hours and I am very grateful for the permission of each of the group participants to see this film.
This is a session of bodywork that began with a period of lying down and breathing. David begins a series of statements with isolation and loss as their theme (“Mummy, where are you?” “Don’t go again!”). This leads to a catharsis that is strong and curiously robotic; his anger, urgency and despair experienced in a monosyllabic, unexpressive scream/shout.
I support his body movement when his upper body raises off the mattress. There is a lot of constriction in his upper body. I work with his neck and belly to encourage and release tears. He breathes in short, high breaths. At this point in his process I anticipated birth work.
I encourage him to breathe deeper. He makes swimming motions while moving his pelvis up and down. My knees are at his shoulders and a member of the group is holding his feet. However, the birth process I was anticipating did not happen.
To get back in touch I ask David what is happening for him and he replies, “I was small, a child fighting against not being wanted. I was in the way. They pretended to care.”
This leads us out of the historical into his present life situation and how he is “getting his own back” by living a life of which his parents disapprove. What follows is a graphic and painful piece of work on his self-martyrdom.
All we have to go on initially is that Dawn has “no feeling” in her legs and pelvis and “nothing” in her top half. These were both clues that her work was to centre on the theme of loss. This process was very powerful and triggered a lot of feelings in the group. I spend quite a lot of time following and supporting her body movements with my hands.
Her work concludes with a series, a list of “might-have-beens” and finally with her poignant statement, “I might have been myself.”
Beginning an afternoon session with a group sharing after a full morning of individual work within the group, I shared my strong feelings of appreciation of this group, of how well I felt they were using the space, of the group power and of my ability to trust their ‘YES’s and their ‘NO’s.
Here principally Theresa works on her relationships with men in a confrontative piece of work with David. This triggers feelings in Dawn who substitutes for her with her demand, “Give me my power back!”
I believe good therapy needs to support wellbeing. In this piece of work Peter begins with habitual feelings of resentment. As soon as he owns this he already feels “lighter”. At this point I sensed that we could go into some work and almost manufacture objects for his resentment. In fact there weren’t any and the issue that he engages with is how to live with “no problem to grapple with”. There is real fear in Peter’s eyes about simply being in the present (in the group) without a problem.
One advantage of therapy workshops over individual therapy work is that the process can be more open-ended and we can draw on support from other group members. Here Peter goes away to spend some time sharing with another group member.
Andrew experiences a lot of anxiety around his sexual fantasies about two members of the group, Lorna and Peter. He feels that his space has become invaded and that he was left out on the previous night. The talking helps him to get in touch with his deeper feelings. What follows is a session of bodywork.
So much is revealed in the way we move. In this session of group bodywork I am facilitating a process that begins with lying on the floor, opening to awareness, feelings and sensations; exploring the space around, experiencing personal boundaries: sitting, standing and walking. At one point I get the group to freeze in mid-movement and just breathe and experience.
The process of preparing and writing this thesis has involved me in a lot of soul-searching. I found it quite difficult watching the hours of video-tape that it took to edit the accompanying tape. I felt very mixed about my approach.
In my peer supervision group I asked two therapists who had both co-led workshops with me about my reservations about my work. What was distilled from our discussions was that I was very insightful, but sometimes lacked in heartfeltness.
I realised how I so often measure people against my expectations of myself. I feel that the most important thing in psychotherapy practice is “heart”. I also feel how many opportunities in this work we have for self-criticism!
A danger of the spiritual perspective, of a transpersonal approach in psychotherapy is disregarding mundane human issues. A sort of coldness may develop. We can objectify the client and create a strong distancing barrier”—too much “witness awareness”.
I believe we need to hold the space open in the therapeutic encounter to allow the heart to enter, to be, to allow healing to take place. This is more important than any techniques I may use. What I have learnt is always complemented and held by my unknowing. What I know is cradled in the expansive matrix of what I do not know.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
 Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1974, p.201. return to text
 This phrase was given to me by William Emerson in a primal integration workshop when it perfectly described my state of being. return to text
 From a talk given by Ram Dass in Bristol, 1987. return to text
 His/her return to text
 I am using “story” here in its widest possible sense, certainly not exclusively a verbal telling. return to text
 Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, translated by Dr John C H Wu, St John’s University Press, New York, 1961, p.53. return to text
 Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess, Inner City Books, Toronto, 1981, p.70. return to text
 From a talk by Hymie Wise, given at the Karuna Institute on 17 February 1990. return to text
 Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Weatherhill, 1970, p.22. return to text
 D Howard Smith, The Wisdom of the Taoist Mystics, Sheldon Press, 1980, p.85. return to text
 Stephen Levine says, “…soften around the pain…allow the pain to just be there, uncover what its real nature actually might be…notice the resistance that (seems) almost to form a fist around the pain, and slowly loosen the fingers that close around the pain.” From Who Dies?, Gateway Books, 1986, p.115. return to text
 From Maura Sills, “Meditation and Core Process Psychotherapy”, Self and Society, Vol. XVII No.2 March/April 1989, p.70. return to text
 “…the sort of mind which springs from natural sources, and not from opinions taken from books; it wells up from the earth like a natural spring, and brings with it the peculiar wisdom of nature.” C G Jung, Seminar on Interpretation of Visions, Zurich 1940, V, I. See also St John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, Burns and Oates, 1935: “In order to arrive at a knowledge of everything, desire to know nothing.” return to text
 return to text
This article was published privately in 1991.